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How To Remove Ceramic Tile From Concrete Floors

Have you recently taken a call from a customer planning to remove ceramic from concrete floors as part of a basement restoration project?

Working with old ceramic tiles demands a fair amount of time and physical stamina. No matter what they told you, fighting with stubborn floor tiles isn't all that entertaining. With the right tools and techniques, you can win the battle, minimize the risk of damage to property or your health, and provide high-quality contracting service.

Take a minute and read our quick guide on removing ceramic tiles from a concrete floor before starting your project.



Prep for the Project

Prep for the Project

Like most flooring jobs, you can't dive in and begin yanking up ceramic tiles without prepping the room where you'll work. Prep work, which includes a minimum of three steps.


Clear the Room

Ideally, you arrive at the job site and have a clear workspace. Whether you're doing a residential or commercial job, you or the customer should remove all furniture and any free-standing items.


Deal with Fixtures

You may need to disassemble fixtures. Attempting to remove the tile in a bathroom without removing the vanity is next to impossible. Also, drain the toilet, shut off the water supply, and remove it.


Cover Irremovable Items

In the kitchen, use a tarp or sheets to cover any object you're not able to move. Countertops, cabinets, and appliances need protection from dust and tile debris. Consider adding a dust collection tool to your wish list this year.

You already know space is vital when it comes to ceramic tile removal. That means if you can move it, remove it, even if it requires a little more time. In the long run, you and the customer will appreciate the effort.


Three More Prep Points

Three More Prep Points

Clearing out furniture, disassembling fixtures, and covering items you can't move are all critical steps. Here are three more prep tasks you can't avoid:


Baseboard Trim

Before you begin tearing up tile, remove all baseboard trim using a hammer, pry bar, and screwdriver. If you include trim removal as part of your service, make sure to include the price for both removal and re-installation in your estimate.


Seal Vents

Considering the amount of dust tile removal creates, neither you nor the client wants their indoor air system to get clogged up with tile debris. Seal the vents with painter's tape and plastic wrap so that none of the dust ends up circulating throughout the building.


HVAC Systems

Furnace and AC units also need protection. Since you'll generate a significant amount of dust during this type of project, shut the unit down and cover it well. Your customer will thank you for preventing layers of dust from damaging the condenser and other heating and cooling system components.

Now, you're ready to get your tools together.



A Tool By Any Other Name Is Not the Right Tool

Think of the flooring installation trade as an art form.  Good installers usually have an eye for design, especially when working with tile colors and patterns. If you don't supply your crew with the right tools, you prevent them from using their artistic talents to satisfy the customer while making your business look great.

Each tool has a unique application, including those used to remove ceramic tile from concrete. Other than the standard tools flooring contractors use every day, you also need a few specialty tools.

In the following section, we'll cover the tools best used when removing ceramic floor tiles.


Essential Ceramic Tile Removal Tools

Essential Ceramic Tile Removal Tools

If you do nothing else to maximize efficiency, at least invest in the best tools for the job. Tools explicitly used to remove ceramic from concrete include:

  • Masonry Chisel — 1 or ¾ Inch
  • Sledge Hammer — 4-Pound
  • Flat Shovel
  • Heavy-Duty Floor Scraper
  • Pry Bar
  • Mastic and Glue Remover

Once you complete tile removal, you can use a concrete grinder to smooth the floor's surface.


Never Work Without Protective Gear

Never Work Without Protective Gear

Make sure your team has a basic understanding of job ergonomics and safety gear. Whether you provide it, or they bring their own, at a minimum, your team should work with protective equipment, including:

  • Work Gloves
  • Safety Goggles
  • Close-Toed Shoes
  • Long-Sleeved Shirts
  • Dust Masks
  • Knee Pads

While it's a subject too lengthy for a short article, when you remove ceramic from concrete, respirable crystalline silica becomes a concern. Learn about standards OSHA sets for limiting exposure to silica dust found in environments where workers cut into mortar, concrete, and tile.

If you're comfortable with safety, read on and explore the ceramic tile removal process.


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Where Do You Begin?

Every flooring project has a starting point. Even though it's more fun, you can't just go after the tile willy-nilly with a sledgehammer.

The ideal place to start removing tile is a spot where you can see or feel broken or cracked tile. Areas with loose grout also make an excellent place to start.

When working with ceramic tiles that are still intact, find the point where the tile stops. Voila— you have your starting point.


Helping Your Client Understand Cracked Tile

Helping Your Client Understand Cracked Tile

Your customer may question why they're dealing with loose or broken ceramic floor tiles. You won't know until you can see what's under the existing flooring, but one of the most common reasons is poor installation.

It's possible when the previous contractor put the flooring in, they installed it without repairing cracks in the concrete floor.

Anytime you place ceramic tile on top of a concrete floor, make sure to fill in voids and cracks in the concrete. The concrete will not support tile installation if you don’t do the prep work.



How To Loosen Ceramic Tiles

While you may find a few tiles that come up without much resistance, plan on using the 1-inch or ¾ inch masonry chisel we included in the tool list. Here's how this step works:


Go Below the Tile

Make the process easier by working the masonry chisel under the tiles. Hold the chisel at a 45-degree angle, then hit it with the sledgehammer. If you prefer, you can use a maul instead of a sledgehammer.


Breaking the Tile

You shouldn't need to apply much pressure when breaking tiles—they should come up easily and loosen from the glue. There are always those rogue tiles that won't budge on your first attempt. Grab a chisel point and use it to remove the stubborn tiles.


Dislodge Perimeter Tiles

Perimeter tiles butt up against the baseboard. This is the place in the project where you'll be glad you removed the baseboard trim.

To dislodge these outermost tiles, use either the chisel or a hammer drill making sure you work at a 45-degree angle to avoid damaging the concrete floor.

Tip: If you're removing ceramic tiles from the concrete floor in a large area, consider investing in an electric tile stripper.


Underlayment and Thinset

Underlayment and Thinset

It's not uncommon to discover something other than the concrete floor when you remove ceramic tile. Here's how you handle underlayment and thinset.


Tear Out Underlayment

Underlayment is a common material between tile and a concrete floor. Remove and dispose of all underlayment and nails.


Remove Thinset

Thinset, the adhesive mortar designed to adhere tile to hard surfaces (like concrete), cures into a cementlike consistency. It's not like epoxy or other glues used for tile, and it can be difficult to remove. Try using the chisel, but if that doesn't work, go for the hammer drill and the floor scraper.


Mastic Removal

Some installers use mastic, also called ceramic tile adhesive. Mastic must go. You can chisel it off, but why not take advantage of a tool that could make the job easier?

Mastic removers do the job, but not only for ceramic tile. You can also use them to remove carpet mastic glue.



Ready to Remove Ceramic from Concrete?

Now you feel confident you have the skillset and tools needed to remove ceramic from concrete floors. To do the job with better efficiency and attention to detail, you'll want to take advantage of tools that will make this type of job easier.

We specialize in mastic and glue removal tools. For help ordering the right product or for answers to your questions, reach out to our team of experts who will be happy to help you place your order.

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